The daily number of reported Covid cases in the UK has risen for the second day in a row, although experts have cautioned against drawing conclusions from the fluctuations.
On Thursday, 31,117 cases were reported in the UK, up from 27,734 the day before – itself the first rise in cases since 20 July.
Dr Claire Bayntun, the vice-president of the Royal Society of Medicine and a clinical consultant in global public health, said in recent days there had also been a drop in testing.
Speaking at an online seminar hosted by the society, she said: “I’ve just come from a meeting with colleagues at PHE [Public Health England] and in fact they were just confirming there’s been a 20% reduction in testing over this very recent period,” she said – although it was unclear whether this related to the UK or England alone.
Bayntun added PHE believed “there was very clear uptick [in] rate, resulting in the peak following the Euros, which again was expected”, noting that while at present there was an uptick in hospital admissions and mortality the situation may, potentially, have improved.
The reduction in testing chimes with data from the government coronavirus dashboard that reveals between 22 and 28 July the number of tests conducted in the UK fell by just over 14%.
While the latest flu and Covid surveillance report from PHE suggests there may have been a slight decline in prevalence of the virus, Hugh Montgomery, a professor of intensive care medicine at University College London, who also took part in the RSM seminar, suggested the decline in testing may not only be down to fewer infections.
“Of course part of that might be because there are 20% fewer people with any symptoms that want testing, but most of our evidence would say that people are avoiding testing so numbers may be higher than they are,” he said, although he noted it does seems cases have recently fallen to some extent.
Earlier in the meeting Montgomery said of such avoidance: “Increasingly, it appears that lots of people don’t want to be tested or swabbed partly because it might stop them going on holiday, etc.”
While Montgomery said current data was not “desperately reliable”, particularly for cases, he added that at present there were about 25,000 to 27,000 cases a day in the UK, with approximately 850 admissions a day and above 90 deaths. Allowing for a time lag between diagnosis and admission, about 2% of cases are currently admitted to hospital, he added.
Montgomery also raised concerns about uptake of Covid jabs, saying the latest PHE figures showed current vaccination rates were “woefully low”. According to the latest report by PHE, vaccine uptake for first doses in England appears to have largely levelled off in all age groups. At present, 95.5% of those aged 75 to under 80 have received at least one dose, compared with 59.9% among those aged 25 to under 30.
“When I talked to friends of mine who work in vaccination centres I spoke to one who said that she was there on Monday and they had 92 booked slots and they had eight people turn up,” he said, adding that some people had decided Covid was no longer a problem while others believed in the conspiracy theory that the vaccines contain microchips.
Montgomery said new mutations would occur and noted many scientists were concerned about lifting restrictions while many people are still are not yet fully vaccinated. More than one in 10 adults in the UK have yet to receive their first dose of a Covid jab and the vast majority of under-18s have not been vaccinated.
“We are indeed I think running that risk of letting it run wild,” he said.
Montgomery, 58, said he did not believe life would go back to normal in his lifetime and that people would remain cautious, adding that mask wearing should continue while hopefully people will try to live life a bit more outside.
Unless the virus mutates into something akin to the common cold, he added: “I can’t see the occasion when I’m going to want to be crammed into the pub shouting at the rugger in the autumn internationals or the Six Nations in the way that I used to, and that’s a shame because I used to very much enjoy a pint in my hand and shouting at the television set but I won’t be doing that.”
Dr Simon Clarke, an associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading, who was not involved in the meeting, said current datasets were “chaotic” and reflected many different factors occurring at the same time.
“Likely a combination of school summer holidays, hot weather, and the lifting of restrictions,” he said. “Hopes have been pinned on the overall trend heading downwards, but a few days infection numbers here or there are in no way a reliable way to predict what the future holds.”